by Champika Fernando
Several cricketers have threatened to retire prematurely if no clarity is offered on the new point system which grades the players and decides their annual pay pack, the Sunday Times can confirm.
Players are up in arms over the scheme which has forced a significant cut on their annual earnings with some losing as much as US$ 50,000 compared to the previous year.
Players have refused to sign the contracts and some are even threatening retirement if no compromise is reached. While discussions were ongoing, all-rounder Thisara Perera quit international cricket after hearing he was only part of a future T20 international side.
If a player is not willing to sign the contract, he could still play for Sri Lanka by entering into a tour contract. Lasith Malinga did this for a couple of years before his international retirement from ODI cricket.
Players have now been categorised into four groups according to a new points system which gives priority to levels of fitness, discipline, performance in international and domestic cricket during the last two years, leadership and overall value to the team. They are now demanding that the Board discloses the points allotted to each in order to understand the thought process.
‘Each individual player very correctly believes they are entitled to a disclosure on the points allotted which categorised their ranking,” Attorney-at-Law Nishan Sydney Premathiratne, the player representative in the SLC contract negotiations, told the Sunday Times.
They believe the spirit of this new performance-based model will only be fulfilled if full transparency is afforded. “Transparency would also create unity and harmony,” Mr Premathiratne said. “All players are in unison seeking this information. Transparency is paramount so that the players also know how they were assessed and what weaknesses they need to address.”
As it stands, negotiations and contract formalisation are at a standstill until this information is divluged. “The players have urged SLC to release it at the earliest. A few other contractual matters are also to be formalised which have been communicated to SLC,” Premathiratne added.
However, the Board said that the information will remain confidential and not be revealed to the players, an indication that the current deadlock could lead to a full-blown dispute between the two parties.
“We are no longer going to offer a contract on seniority or any other personal preferences but only after evaluating the overall performance of a player based on the new criteria,” a SLC official said on the condition of anonymity.
“We were to give them the contracts last week but we could not do it because of the lockdown,” he said. “So, will give the contracts next week and whoever wants to sign can do so. The others can sign tour contracts. We have no issue with that. But we will not compromise the system in place and are not willing to divulge these vital pieces of information.”
The categorisation of players was done by the Director of Cricket, Head Coach, Physio and the Selectors after evaluating their overall performances during the last two years based on an evaluation process prepared by the Cricket Committee.
Even though the retainer fee has reduced, the new system has seen the introduction of a performance-based bonus for the team. For instance, if Sri Lanka wins a Test series against the number one ranked team, the team is entitled to a bonus of US$ 150,000 while a series win in ODI and T20 internationals against the number one ranked team will give them a bonus of US$ 75,000 and US$ 50,000 respectively. Also, match fees across formats have been increased.
“Sri Lanka cricket is not about this 24 cricketers,” the SLC source stressed. “We need to look after the interests of the domestic cricketers who are being poorly paid. We are also in the process of finalising development squad contracts.”
The Cricket Committee has proposed a huge pay hike for domestic cricketers. For instance, a cricketer who was earning around Rs. 750,000 per season under the existing domestic pay structure could now earn around Rs. 2.5 million during the season if he plays the entire season.
Sri Lanka is currently ranked 8th in Test and T20 internationals and 9th in ODI cricket, significantly reducing the value of the country’s biggest sport brand, another reason for pay cut. The Board now wants to put the pressure on the players to up their game to make Sri Lanka cricket great once again to enhance the brand value.
In addition to monies received from the International Cricket Council, Sri Lanka Cricket earned much of their income through television rights and various sponsorships but the value of these depend heavily on the performances of the team. The current standing does not help.
“In most cricketing nations, players are allotted a certain percentage from the respective Board’s earnings, and such disclosures(earnings of the Board) are made available to the players and the respective player association,” explained Premathirathne. “The players and the administration of cricket are all part of one team, with one objective of uplifting overall cricket. Pay-cuts and pay enhancements being applied to all parties concerned in the overall cricketing setup in a uniform, transparent manner, would make everything very fair, which is seen in other jurisdictions.”
Among those who are badly affected are Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne and Suranga Lakmal as they have suffered significant losses in their earnings. The national selectors have also dropped them from limited-over cricket with a view to building a young and fitter team for the 2023 World Cup.
Mathews, who was earning a fee of US$ 130,000 the previous year, will lose as much as US$ 50,000 as he has managed to secure a US$ 80,000 A 2 category contract along with new ODI skipper Kusal Janith Perera. Mathews’s omission for a A 1 contract may have been fueled by the selector’s decision to drop the former captain from limited-over cricket.
Karunaratne also received a pay cut of US$ 30,000. He took on the leadership at a difficult time and has been in exceptional form with the bat in Test cricket but with selectors not considering him for limited-over cricket, his chances of earning a top contract have withered.
Lakmal, who was in the top category last year, has only managed to earn a category B 1 contract which has a base price of US$ 65,000. Chandimal, on the other hand, has been demoted to category C 2 with a base price of US$ 45,000. Chandimal is among several other seniors overlooked for the forthcoming limited-over series in Bangladesh and England. Gunathilake is one of the key players in white-ball cricket but recurrent discipline and fitness issues played a role in deciding his ranking. He has managed only a D 2 contract which offers an annual salary of USS 30,000.
Among the biggest gainers in the new contracts to be announced shortly are Niroshan Dickwella and Dhananjaya de Silva who are in the top bracket with an annual earning of US$ 100,000 in the A 1 category. Even though SLC wanted to introduce a A+ category like in India, none of the Sri Lankan cricketers have fulfilled the required criteria to get into that category.
Young Pathum Nissanka has earned a jackpot following his dream debut in the Carribean two months ago earning a B 3 contract with a retainer worth US$ 55,000. Wanindu Hasaranga and Lasith Embuldeniya, who have been in great form in recent months, have been duly rewarded with B2 contracts with an annual earning of US$ 60,0000. Young Ashen Bandara, who made his Sri Lanka debut against West Indies two months ago, has also been included in the new contract.
Despite being one of the key players in limited-over cricket since the World Cup in 2019, Avishka Fernando has failed to earn a national contract as he didn’t reach the required level of fitness. Also missing out is Nuwan Pradeep.
Fernando, 23, missed the limited-over leg of the West Indies tour after he didn’t attend the mandatory 2km fitness test due to an injury and was subsequently dropped for the forthcoming Bangladesh series following a failed fitness test.
SLC has set a time of eight minutes and 35 seconds to complete the 2km run, but Fernando has taken close to one minute more than the expected time, the national chief selector told the Sunday Times last week. Fernando is currently in training with the ODI team and may get a call up for the England tour if he pass the fitness Test.